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Europe’s industrial leaders explain how digitalisation can help them reach climate goals

Just when the world looks on course to miss both Paris Climate targets on lowering emissions and UN SDG goals, digitalised industries offer growing signs of hope.

That was the key takeaway from Industry Digitalisation for Climate Action, a roundtable at CSR Europe’s European SDG Summit 2021.

Panellists, including TCS’ Head of UK & Europe Communications, Media & Information Services, Carol Wilson, highlighted research showing that the digital sector has the potential to be a flywheel for green innovation.

According to the Exponential Roadmap, ICT’s ability to reduce sector-wide fossil fuel emissions by 15% by 2030 could be outweighed by its capacity to influence emissions cuts of 35% through transformations of wider consumer and business systems.

Connective technologies including 5G and IoT, and next-generation analytics powered by AI, look set to be the tools to make it happen.

However, significant challenges were also flagged. These included nurturing the skills base required to digitise Europe’s industries as well as the pressing need for greater collaboration and integration. “Ecosystems for us is a hugely important concept because we believe that no company is able to achieve digitalisation or sustainability initiatives on their own,” said Carol Wilson.

Green innovation

From water treatment and autonomous trucks to tomato growing, there is diverse evidence of the potential of digital solutions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Businesses also appear increasingly willing to invest in green innovation.

Since the second quarter of 2021, more than half a million vehicles around the world made by Scania, the Swedish heavy vehicle manufacturer, have been digitally connected. By monitoring driving patterns captured by IoT sensors, the company is able to make recommendations to drivers that can improve fuel consumption by more than 10%.

“Our connected vehicles contribute to our customers’ sustainable goals,” says Nico van der Klugt, Corporate Communications Officer at Scania. “New applications will become available in the coming years to enhance performance even further.”

Carol Wilson highlighted the example of a water management system, implemented by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for a UK utility - one of a number the company has developed digitalisation solutions for. The water company had been impacted by a series of ‘water events,’ periods of network stress caused by triggers such as heavy freezes and thaws, she explained. “TCS developed a GIS (Geographic Information) system which enabled this water utility to visualise events as they're occurring and to manage events using flow information from a real-time network of sensors.”




Need for collaboration

A key theme of the panel was the need for intense collaboration to unlock the full potential of digitalisation across industry. Technology for technology’s sake will not be enough, panellists agreed. Only an ecosystem can support businesses’ goals.

Bonny Heeren, Investor and Advisor at SenseNL, a Netherlands-based technology company that is using sensors and 5G to automate agriculture, praised the Dutch Triple Helix approach, where government, business and academia partner to find solutions.

This is an approach - and a collaboration destination - favoured by TCS. The company recently opened its first European phygital hub, TCS Pace Port™ Amsterdam, which connects innovators, including business and universities, in a greenfield setting where rapid prototyping using technologies like 5G is supported.

However, hubs and partnerships will need to be joined up if industry is to deliver on Paris Climate goals. Carol Wilson cited the example of emergent connected city technologies as a digitalisation opportunity that has huge potential but is currently under-networked. “The privately-owned parking management system could be IoT-based. But who pays for the integration of a parking system into the overall smart city network?”

Talent and targets

Skills could prove another key factor that determines whether industry can deliver on the promise of digitalisation. According to the panel, training and retaining the next generation of ICT specialists will be critical.

“The skills gap and the war for talent at the moment is mind boggling,” says Carol Wilson. TCS’ STEM skills program, goIT for Europe, works to inspire school children in the IT field. However, the challenge requires further cross-industry collaboration.

The panel also highlighted the need for businesses to have appropriate - and if possible, standardised - KPIs in place to measure delivery against climate targets and SDGs. As Carol Wilson put it: “This will help businesses take very early course corrections to stop investments in one area and move them to another.”

Panel Chair and Head of Marketing & Communications and Ericsson, Corinne Muller was clear on the roadmap ahead. “We need pioneers and frontrunners to lead by example. And we need to scale up to reach the 2030 goals.”